MIAMI — NBA Commissioner David Stern handed Miami’s LeBron James his third MVP trophy in a pregame ceremony before the Heat hosted the Indiana Pacers on Sunday.
James was announced Saturday as the winner of the award. Fans attending the Indiana-Miami playoff game were all given headbands with James’ logo and the letters “MVP” printed on them, as well as placards to mark the occasion.
James is the eighth player to win the award at least three times. “Pretty good company,” Stern said.
The Heat played a video tribute on the scoreboard to start the brief ceremony, which ended with James thanking fans and telling them they played a part in it as well. He ended his speech with “Gracias, Miami,” as the sellout crowd roared.
James then scored 32 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in his first game as a three-time MVP, Dwyane Wade finished with 29 despite struggling from the floor, and the Heat beat the Pacers 95-86 in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series.
Chris Bosh scored 13 points for Miami, but left late in the first half with a lower abdominal injury and did not return. The Heat outscored Indiana 25-16 in the fourth, with Wade and James combining for 22 of those points.
David West and Roy Hibbert each scored 17 points and combined for 23 rebounds for the Pacers, who got 10 points each from Darren Collison and George Hill.
Game 2 is Tuesday in Miami.
James spent two days trying to figure out the right words. An assistant jotted some ideas on notecards, which were ignored. So when the moment came Saturday deliver his MVP acceptance speech, James spoke emotionally about family, charity, history and what the Miami Heat organization means to him.
And he finished with a flourish.
“Heat nation, we have a bigger goal,” James said. “This is very overwhelming to me as an individual award. But this is not the award I want, ultimately. I want that championship. That’s all that matters to me.”
James accepted his third NBA MVP award Saturday, making him the eighth player in league history to win that many. The others — Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Moses Malone — all have won NBA titles.
James received 85 of a possible 121 first-place votes from a panel of sportswriters and broadcasters who cover the league, with fans on NBA.com combining for one vote. He earned 1,074 points, topping Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant (889 points, 24 first-place votes), the Los Angeles Clippers’ Chris Paul (385, six first-place votes), the Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant (352, two first-place votes), and San Antonio’s Tony Parker (331, four first-place votes).
James’ numbers this season — 27.1 points, 7.9 rebounds and 6.2 assists and 1.9 steals per game on 53 percent shooting — are extremely comparable to last season, when he finished a distant third in the MVP race behind Derrick Rose and Dwight Howard.
Similar numbers. Much better result. And James understands why.
A year ago, following all the fallout that accompanied his decision to leave Cleveland and sign with Miami, James realized there was no way he was going to have voters back him for a third straight season. Long before the results were in, James knew the 2011 MVP wasn’t going to be his.
“I just felt like there was nothing good that was going to come out as far as the individual accolades,” James said. “I wanted to be an MVP for this team, but it didn’t matter to me what the outside world was saying. It didn’t matter what the voters were saying last year. It was just about this team.”
“I’m not saying that’s changed,” he added, “but I think time heals all.”
CLIPPERS 82, GRIZZLIES 72: The Los Angeles Clippers refused to let a third chance to knock the Memphis Grizzlies out of the playoffs slip away.
Kenyon Martin scored seven of his 11 points in the fourth quarter, and the Clippers advanced to the Western Conference semifinals with an 82-72 win over the Memphis Grizzlies in Game 7 on Sunday in Memphis.
The Clippers blew an eight-point lead in the fourth quarter Friday night. So Martin huddled the Clippers together at the start of the fourth quarter Sunday, and the veteran led the bench in outscoring the Grizzlies 25-16. Chris Paul had the only bucket by a starter in the final 12 minutes, and the Clippers’ bench outscored the Memphis reserves 41-11 overall.
“Our bench was our MVP,” Clippers guard Randy Foye said. “They realized what they had to do. We had a lot of guys hurt, so we just continued to grind.”
Now, the Clippers have their third postseason series win in 41 years and their second since relocating to Los Angeles. They last beat Denver in 2006. The Clippers also avoided becoming the ninth NBA team to blow a 3-1 lead in a best-of-seven series in moving on to play the top-seeded Spurs starting Tuesday night in San Antonio.
“I want the guys to enjoy this, and then we’ll regroup tomorrow and focus in on that,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. “But obviously another big challenge for us.”
Paul scored 19 points despite playing with a strained right hip flexor. Nick Young had nine of his 13 off the bench in the fourth as the Clippers finished off the series with their biggest margin of victory. Paul was so confident of victory he bought plane tickets for his wife and son to San Antonio on Saturday.
“I felt like we should have won earlier,” Paul said. “But it doesn’t matter. As long as you win, I think it is a step in the right direction for our franchise.
Rudy Gay and Marc Gasol each had 19 for Memphis, which lost a Game 7 at Oklahoma City a year ago in the second round of the playoffs. Zach Randolph had a game-high 12 rebounds.
“Unfortunately, no one on the bench stepped up and helped us,” Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said.
The Clippers, who trailed 56-55 after three quarters, took control by opening the fourth with an 11-2 run started by a jumper by Martin. He tipped in a shot for a 66-58 lead with 8:41 left. Mo Williams matched the Clippers’ biggest lead to that point at 10 with a 3-pointer pushing it to 71-61 with 7:04 left in a 16-5 spurt to open the quarter.
“They hit shots in a hurry,” Gay said of the Clippers. “They made plays off our turnovers, and they just converted, something we weren’t doing at that time.”
Los Angeles finished off the win by hitting 9 of 10 free throws in the final 3:26. The Clippers also managed to outrebound the Grizzlies 46-44 for only the second time this series.
Memphis got away from the inside-out approach that won the last two games. The Grizzlies outscored the Clippers 36-24, but Randolph said they took far too many jumpers instead of feeding the ball to Gasol and himself.
“You have to take your hats off to them because they played good,” Randolph said of the Clippers. Chris had a good game, and their bench played terrific.”
The home-court advantage that didn’t help the Grizzlies when they blew a 27-point lead in Game 1 didn’t help again Sunday as they went cold from the floor. Gasol’s one-handed dunk with 3:09 left was Memphis’ last field goal down the stretch as the Grizzlies hit only 4 of 18 in the fourth quarter and finished the game missing all 13 3-pointers.